The case for a Constitutional Convention
On his Sunday social issues column Hunter wrote about the possibility that there could soon be a Constitutional Convention. On the possibility of a Constitutional Convention (Con Con), Hunter observed that
“As history is made around us, we are called to great acts of self-governance and personal responsibility. These are a high calling, and ought not to be taken lightly.”
Here he will make his case for one.
One of the reasons Hunter supports a Con Con is precisely the one that most folks give for their opposition to it – the off-chance it could become a runaway Convention – a convention that is not limited to one or two specific, previously identified Amendments.
Not only does Hunter not fear such a thing, he welcomes it.
He welcomes a Con Con despite the other, barely disguised reason that many oppose it, the alleged inability of the general populace to govern ourselves and our supposedly limited intellectual and moral development. Put bluntly, today, as in the past, many of our intellectual and civic leaders believe us too evil or stupid to govern ourselves. They believe that in a Constitutional Convention there runs the risk of stupid, evil people running away with government power.
In making the case against a Con Con, the John Birch Society, as do most of those who object, oppose it on the grounds of fear of a ‘runaway convention’. They maintain that a runaway Convention would likely occur due to the theory of popular sovereignty, asking “how could any limits be placed on a convention for proposing amendments representing the sovereign people [emphasis mine] convened according to Article V?”. One’s immediate response should very will be “why would you limit the sovereign people’s authority if a Convention is called?’
The implicit reason for most folks’ opposition can be found in the words of Jefferson when he discussed those who were reticent in giving authority to the people:
“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion,[emphasis mine] the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of Constitutional power”
We need not look just to the past to find those who fear we, the people are ‘not enlightened enough to exercise…control with a wholesome discretion’. Another prominent opponent of a Con Con, Chief Justice Warren Burger, explicitly says as much.
In his letter, dated June 22, 1983, to prominent political and moral activist Phyllis Schlafly, Burger wrote of his fears of a Con Con. Burger expressed his concern that ‘such a convention would be a grand waste of time’, adding that there would be ‘no assurance that focus would be on the subjects needing attention’. One is tempted to ask,’Mr. Chief Justice, if the Constitution was designed for ‘we the people’, why do you believe that we ourselves do not recognize or understand the things that ‘need attention’? The former Chief Justice is kind enough to give us his answer.
The honorable Chief Justice observed in his letter that a Con Con might be ‘a free-for-all for special interest groups, television coverage, and press speculation’. Before we move on to his more notable objection, let’s pause for a moment and reflect.
Since ‘special interest groups’ are nothing more than collections of individuals with specific, concrete concerns, given his complaint that a Con Con of the people offers ‘no assurance that focus would be on the subjects needing attention’, one can assume that the Chief Justice considers the focused interests of such people unworthy of concern. The good Chief Justice acknowledges thus, stating his worry that ‘after a convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the convention if we don’t like its agenda’. Presumably the ‘we’ in this statement is not ‘we the people’, but rather such elites as the good Chief Justice and Ms. Schlafly, the moneyed and politically influential ‘elites’ who of course have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Presumably also, given the Chief Justice’s worry regarding ‘television coverage and press speculation’ he’d prefer a Con Con, were one to occur, be hidden from public view. Why? Perhaps the good Chief Justice believes we, the people may not like the issues discussed were we to learn of them. Perhaps he prefers a government that operates in secrecy.
On the issue of a runaway Convention, the honorable Chief Justice plays his hand, exposing his actual beliefs regarding we, the people. He lets us know what he believes ours and the governments respective roles are. Mr. Burger complains that ‘Congress might try to limit the convention to one amendment or to one issue, but there is no way to assure that the convention would obey’. ‘Obey’?
Mr. Chief Justice, we, the people are not your servant, you are ours. We have no need to ‘obey’, but you do. We recognize that your authority comes solely at our consent. It is past time that our leaders recognize this fact, and act on it.
This, not some ‘lack of attention’ to ‘issues that need be addressed’, is the reason most folks, particularly those in elected and appointed positions, oppose a Convention. They understand that we the people are the government. They fear that once the reins of power are firmly in our grasp, as would occur in a Con Con, their influence, authority, control, and interests may well become moot.
Hunter supports a Constitutional Convention because he understands that we, the people recognize, perhaps better than those in Washington, precisely the ‘subject(s) needing attention’.
62% of citizens polled say that the nation is on the wrong track. 72% identify the size of government as the biggest threat to the nation, and 78% of U.S. disprove of the job the U.S. Congress is doing. These numbers, which cut across party or ideological affiliation, demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens have identified our government as the cause of the bulk of our problems. When the good Chief Justice shows concern that Congress might not ‘be obeyed’ at a Constitutional Convention he is certainly correct – they would not be.
The Chief Justice and the good folks at the John Birch Society, like many elites from our past, fear that we are ‘not enlightened enough to exercise…control with a wholesome discretion’. They are mistaken.
Hunter concluded his Sunday column with this
“As history is made around us, we are called to great acts of self-governance and personal responsibility. These are a high calling, and ought not to be taken lightly. Our future – and that of our posterity – is watching to see what we do with the awesome responsibility that awaits us”
Are we prepared to ‘exercise…control with a wholesome discretion’? Are we ready to answer the call of “great acts of self-governance and personal responsibility”?
What do you think?